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The State of Live Video 2018
Live keeps pay TV in the game; piracy and scalability issues dog streaming; remote production comes of age; and the battle over sports rights has barely begun.
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“We are at the point of transition from a place where IP production is contributed back to base and passed through a relatively traditional gallery with comms and graphics and switching towards a scenario where all of that takes place in the cloud,” explained Tim Sargeant (below right), one of the BBC team members leading the project.

The BBC’s long-term aim is to shift all of its live event production onto software and into the cloud for distribution online. This plays into the corporation’s short-term plan to “revamp” the iPlayer in a bid to compete better with OTT rivals. Indeed, BBC director general Tony Hall’s ambition is for iPlayer to become the top online TV destination in the UK within 3 years. iPlayer usage has plateaued, averaging around 8 million views a day for the second year running.

In announcing the sports plan, he admitted the BBC has been forced to evolve as a result of the budget for live sport being slashed. “[W]e will not stand still,” Hall wrote in the Guardian, “not if we want to meet the changing demands of sports fans, not if we want to remain relevant in the media’s most competitive marketplace.”

The BBC already requires individual registration to access iPlayer and says it will incorporate AI and voice recognition to personalise the user experience.

Live Streaming Struggles to Scale

Live online broadcasts require robust systems that can supply the necessary quality demanded by consumers, media companies, and content owners. However, some high-profile incidents in 2017 put question marks over the internet’s ability to scale.

These included the big-money fight between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather at end of August with some pay-per-view patrons taking rights owner Showtime to court for not delivering on the HD quality it promised.

DAZN, the live and on-demand sport service owned by Perform Group, was afflicted by delayed feeds and service skipping when it launched into Canada in September on the back of exclusive rights to the NFL. The company had to extend an apology to subscribers and offer compensation, although further glitches have not been reported.

Also in September, Eurosport’s live stream of Bundesliga matches suffered similar issues, and Eurosport had to issue an apology to the league and offer to refund the pay-per-view fee.

That Eurosport is reliant on BAMTech, the poster child for direct-to-consumer streaming, illustrates the challenge of meeting consumer expectations for a broadcast-quality, always-on experience.

Eurosport parent Discovery will be hoping the issues are sorted ahead of demand for the Winter Olympics this February, which it promises will be the biggest online Olympics yet.

Disney, which paid $1.58 billion to acquire a 42 percent stake in BAMTech (bringing its majority to 75 percent) in September, will use it to launch an ESPN-branded, multi-sport video streaming service early 2018.

“A global show on the scale of a Super Bowl cannot be live streamed today to everyone online,” Charles Kraus, senior product marketing manager at Limelight Networks, told Streaming Media. “The internet would have to grow by an order of magnitude in capacity to support streaming for everyone.”

Kraus pinpointed the main issue as last-mile congestion, adding, “The average bandwidth in the US is 10Mbps, [and in] the UK [it’s] 20Mbps, but you need at least 30Mbps to deliver 4K. Even where 4K is advertised (by Netflix, Hulu) and people pay a premium for it, you never hear these providers state that the end-user’s ability to receive this will depend on your ISP network.”

According to Stuart Newton, VP strategy and business development at Ineoquest, checking video availability at multiple geographic locations will help in mitigating future brand damage, especially if the issue was not with the content provider.

“Having the data allows for negotiation with the CDN and access network providers—the worst possible situation is not knowing what to fix for the next major event,” says Newton, whose company was acquired by Telestream last March.

CDN technology will improve and bandwidth capacity will increase, but the traffic is likely to increase accordingly.

In Europe, Digital Video Broadcasting is working on an adaptive bitrate multicast protocol that can be deployed over managed networks and the public internet, and a standard is expected to be available this year.

The other key problem facing live streamers is latency. Net Insight tackles this with Sye, a solution for distributing synchronised live OTT with a fixed delay from the CDN into the cloud and out to the client’s device. The firm made a proof of concept of this in June, providing OTT viewing to fans of the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship event at Solvalla in partnership with Swedish production company StoryFire. Traffic was routed through a local ISP called IP-Only, with overflow streaming via Amazon Web Services, configured to handle 50,000 concurrent viewers.

Another solution is provided by Ooyala, which upgraded its managed Ooyala Live solution with 24/7 monitoring and high availability for multi-region auto-failover. It claims a 99.95 percent uptime for content provider video streams as a result.

Chicago start-up Phenix reckons its technology is good enough today to scale to multiple millions of viewers online. While most services are either HTTP Live Streaming or WebRTC, both of which trade scale for delay, Phenix says its platform offers less than half a second of latency and a potentially infinite number of concurrent users.

“We dream of streaming the Olympics opening ceremony to a billion people worldwide in real-time, a task that is not possible with other streaming technologies,” Stefan Birrer, co-founder and CEO told Streaming Media.

Piracy Moves to the Fore

Piracy is an unfortunate fact of life for the TV industry, but direct hacks into production servers became a worrisome trend last year. Netflix supplier Larson Studios had episodes of Orange Is the New Black stolen and released online in April, and Disney was subject to an alleged breach a month later as hackers sought to capitalise on industry panic. But it was the hack of Game of Thrones in August that sent Hollywood into overdrive.

Criminals threatened to leak scripts, including a detailed outline of the Season 7 finale and an image with the warning “Winter is Coming. HBO is Falling,” and they gained access to Time Warner employees’ Twitter feeds.

HBO resisted the $6 million bitcoin ransom and the material was leaked, but the show still recorded high live-viewing numbers and download figures that suggest that spoilers won’t deter fans from watching event television live to air.

However, the industry faces its biggest threat from illegal redistribution of live content, specifically sports. This was thrown into relief by August’s money match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. This was watched illegally by close to 3 million viewers, security specialist Irdeto calculated. With Showtime charging $99 per view, that is an eye-watering loss of revenue.

The industry response is multi-layered, ranging from consumer education to law enforcement—the English Premier League struck a series of significant blows against the use of Kodi set-top boxes to view unlicensed streams.

With pirates using increasingly sophisticated and professional presentation techniques, the onus is also on online publishers to ensure content is delivered to a high standard. A good portion of potential pay-per-view customers for the Mayweather/McGregor fight were reportedly deterred by the service’s inability to complete their transactions on time.

Linear Drives OTT Subs

Subscription OTT services that are driven by linear streaming, as opposed to library catalogues, are the fastest growing segment of the online video market now according to Ovum. In November, it reported that subscription linear services (SLIN) already account for around 37 percent of the 4 million total OTT subs in France, 31 percent in the UK (of 13 million total OTT subs), and 28 percent of 7 million in Germany.

A subscription linear service is one that contains linear and on-demand content. The analyst firm believes this combination is more likely to be used as a substitute for traditional pay TV than subscription video-on-demand services, and that it will have increasing market impact.

The category includes entry-level linear OTT services from pay TV operators such as Canal Play; direct-to-consumer offers from traditional channel owners, such as HBO Now and services launched by rights-owners, usually for sport; and streamed games services like Twitch.

Ovum explained, “Many SLIN services offer first-run TV shows at the same time as traditional TV, especially live sports coverage and other premium content historically restricted to traditional broadcast TV windowing—and denied to SVOD providers such as Netflix until later release windows.”

Analyst Tony Gunnarsson told OTTtv World Summit attendees that there are several things to look out for going forward, including price pressure building against pay TV, the fate of sports rights, Netflix response to falling subs, and how Amazon develops its Amazon Channels service.

However, SLIN isn’t confined to pay TV. November saw Freeview, the UK’s digital terrestrial television platform, announce “Bundle Builder,” a recommendation of subscription packages that includes Sky’s NOW TV, to supplement free-to-air viewing. For a platform that was launched as the home of free TV, this was a dramatic acknowledgement that viewers of free TV also want access to SVOD. However, Freeview is still not available as a distinct online service.

“We can choose to become a footnote in the quarterly results of Apple or Amazon or we can strive for something better,” warned Jonathan Thompson, CEO, Digital UK, which is jointly owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Arqiva, at the Outside the Box event in London. “Our industry needs to lead the charge and act together to strengthen rather than loosen the bonds on which our success was built. We must go faster and further than ever done before.”

Late in 2017, reports circulated that the BBC was weighing plans to introduce an SVOD service to replace BBC Store, the download-to-own service that announced its closing in May, just 18 months after launch.

The idea would be to offer a paid-for VOD catalogue of BBC programming via iPlayer after the 30-day catch-up window. This would put the BBC more in line with Netflix’s vast archive library.

[This article appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Streaming Media European Edition.]